horse behavior

5 Ways to Reduce Stress for Your Horse

Just like us, horses are individuals. Some are highly strung, while others have a calmer disposition. However, reducing unnecessary stress is imperative to your horse’s health and wellbeing. In this article, we share five ways you can reduce stress for your horse.  Domestic horses live very differently to their wild ancestors. In nature, horses live in herds, with approximately 70% of the day spent grazing and moving across varied terrain. In contrast, the way horses live today – in paddocks and stables – can lead to stress. Over long periods, stress can lend itself to health and performance issues, so it’s critical that we, as horse owners, find ways to reduce stress wherever we can for the benefit of our horses. Learn your horse’s normal vital signs and behaviours  As a horse owner, it’s up to you to notice changes in your horse. You should be familiar with their normal vital signs, particularly heart rate, as that’s a common indicator of stress. Likewise, behavioural changes shouldn’t just be dismissed as naughty or stubborn. Create and keep to a daily routine  Horses respond well to routine and any drastic change in routine can be a cause for distress. To minimise stress and the potential for stereotypic behaviours, you should aim to feed your horse at the same times each day. Assess your horse’s diet and body condition  Many horses kept in light to moderate work can thrive on forage-only diets, comprised of hay and pasture. Adding unnecessary calories to your horse’s diet in the form of commercial feeds, especially those high in starch, can create problems. Ensure tack and equipment fit properly  Any equipment used on your horse should be selected for correct fit and well maintained. Bridles, bits, saddles, rugs, boots and shoes can all cause long-term damage. You should regularly check for signs of incorrect fit and use the services of qualified professionals. Prioritise the three F’s in your horse’s management  Above all, horses require friends, forage and freedom. If your horse is allowed time to socialise with paddock mates, with unlimited access to quality forage and space to move freely, their health and wellbeing will benefit. 

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What are my horse’s ears telling me?

Like many animals, horses use a combination of postures, gestures and expressions, as well as vocal cues, to communicate with others. Learning the often unspoken language of horses will assist you in building a better relationship with your horse.  Let’s take a closer look at what your horse’s ears are saying.  One of the first lessons we learn around horses is the difference between when a horse’s ears are pointed forward as opposed to when they’re pinned back. Forward ears indicate the horse is alert and engaged; ears pinned back signals aggression and the possibility of a bite or kick.  But, do you know some of the less known ear expressions of your horse?  Ears turned to the side  You’ll often find horses with their ears turned to the side when they’re relaxing or sleeping. This relaxed expression of the ears indicates the horse isn’t paying close attention to their environment, so it’s best to approach them with care. A sudden noise or touch could startle them.  Ears turned to the back  Next, a horse with ears turned back, but not pinned back, is often listening to their environment. As a prey species, your horse is forever mindful of predators. However, when combined with a swishing tail or other signs of tension, these ears may be a precursor to ears pinned back.  Ears rapidly swivelling  Finally, if you notice your horse’s ears are rapidly swivelling back and forth, it may be a sign of anxiety or over-stimulation. This ear expression signifies your horse is trying to locate a concerning sound or smell, or they may be in a heightened state of alertness.

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Horse Health: The Spring Health Check

As the seasons change from Winter to Spring, it’s an ideal time to review your horse’s health with your veterinarian. With Spring comes a more active riding and competition schedule, and an assessment of your horse will help to maximise their performance. Our veterinarians are an excellent resource for advice on all aspects of horse management, including preventative medicine, nutrition, body condition, behavioural problems and hoof care. Use Spring to treat your whole horse to gain the most out of the warmer months.  Health Care  Before the busy season begins, a physical examination by your veterinarian will give your horse the best start to an increasing workload. Not only will your vet be able to identify any issues that may affect your horse, but you can also discuss nutritional and training strategies. Vaccination and parasite control are central to your horse’s health. The threat of parasites and biting insects increases as the weather warms, so the start of Spring is the perfect time to protect your horse with vaccinations, de-worming and a faecal egg count. Hoof Care Spring brings many challenges to your horse’s hooves, particularly if they’re kept in soggy or muddy conditions for prolonged periods of time. Thrush and hoof abscesses are common in the wet. A consultation with your vet will aid treatment and prevention. If your horse is encountering any hoof problems in hand or under saddle that relate to shoeing or trimming, it’s important that you resolve these issues well ahead of travel and competitions. Your veterinarian will be able to offer advice on the hoof care solution your horse needs. Nutrition Finally, adequate nutrition and pasture management play a massive role in your horse’s health, energy and immunity. The transition from Winter to Spring can leave your horse susceptible to acute and chronic conditions, like colic or laminitis, if diet changes aren’t managed correctly. Likewise, incorrect feed storage, resulting in contamination by vermin or mouldy hay, can have devastating consequences for your horse. Seek advice from your veterinarian about your horse’s nutritive requirements and safe storage practices on your property.

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5 Tips for Managing the Laminitic Horse in Spring

If you own a horse susceptible to grass-induced laminitis, Spring can make you feel increasingly nervous. However, with knowledge and support, you can provide your laminitic horse with the level of care they need to live comfortably.  Tip 1: Book a Vet Consultation A thorough health check by your veterinarian is highly recommended for the laminitic horse, especially to prevent the symptoms of laminitis recurring this season. With the support of your vet, be sure to check: Your horse’s health and set steps to improve their overall health if needed Your horse’s weight and insulin levels, and set goals to reduce these if they’re too high Your horse’s vaccination and de-worming program to ensure they’re fully protected  Tip 2: Assess Your Horse’s Diet  Careful diet management is crucial to the health of the laminitic horse. A high-fibre, low-carbohydrate diet, comprised mostly of hay, will support your horse’s caloric needs, without overloading on sugar. Tip 3: Manage Turnout Time Pasture, especially during Spring, can pose a high health risk to laminitic horses. Depending on the severity of your horse’s condition, closely monitored turnout during the night or early morning when fructan levels are lowest may be acceptable. Tip 4: Provide Supportive Hoof Care Laminitic horses have unique needs when it comes to hoof care. Shoeing should be avoided for as long as possible in Spring, except where corrective shoeing is required. Trimming should be done by a competent farrier with prior laminitis experience. Tip 5: Support Your Horse’s Wellbeing All horses thrive on freedom of movement, access to pasture and interaction with other horses. Provide your horse with unlimited access to water and hay containing less than 10% sugar, and utilise grazing muzzles or a dirt path system to encourage happy, healthy behaviour.

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My horse is dropping weight unexpectedly. What does that mean?

There are three common reasons for unexpected weight loss. These include inadequate diet, poor dental care, and ineffective worming. If your horse is losing weight unexpectedly, then you should assess these three areas to ensure their needs are being met. Nutrition  As a general rule, every horse should be consuming 2-3% of their body weight in feed every day. Feeding low-quality roughage or providing an inadequate level of calories in your horse’s daily feed ration are two of the most common culprits behind unexpected weight loss. The nutritional requirements of horses must be met at every stage of life. Young, growing horses, lactating mares and equine athletes will have higher requirements for calories and protein than pleasure horses. Remember, seasonal and hormonal changes can also affect senior horses and mares in oestrus, resulting in weight loss during Winter and weight gain during Summer. Dental Care Without regular dental care, your horse may find it uncomfortable or even painful to chew their food. At any age, sharp enamel points, caused by uneven wear, and missing or misaligned teeth, can cause mild to severe discomfort. From nine months of age, every horse should receive a dental examination at least once a year. However, as your horse ages, the need for regular dental checks will increase. Any horse aged 16 or older should receive a minimum of two dental examinations per year. Weight loss due to poor dentition is most commonly seen in senior horses. Proper chewing and, thus, digestion will support your senior horse’s ability to absorb nutrients and maintain a healthy weight. Worming While most horses can live in harmony with some intestinal parasites, any high worm burden can have long-term impacts on your horse’s intestinal health and ability to absorb nutrients, leading to severe weight loss and malnutrition. Every horse should be wormed every 8-12 weeks. It’s also vital that you assess the effectiveness of your worming program with a fecal egg count prior to worming and a fecal egg count reduction test several weeks later. Providing your horse with an adequate dose of the wormer most effective against the parasites affecting them is the only way to protect them against damage to the digestive tract.

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My horse is pawing at the ground. What should I do?

Horses are prone to colic as they have a poorly designed digestive system and is the number one cause of death in horses. Colic is a condition that affects the digestive system of horses and can range from mild to severe. One of the most common signs of colic is when a horse starts pawing at the ground. As an owner, it is important to know how to recognize the signs of colic and what to do when they occur. The first step is to determine what type of colic your horse is experiencing. There are several types of colic, including gas colic, impaction colic, and twisted bowel colic. Each type requires a different treatment approach, and some may require veterinary intervention. If your horse is exhibiting signs of colic, such as pawing at the ground, it is important to act quickly. While some cases of colic can resolve on their own, others can be life-threatening. As a responsible owner, it is always best to err on the side of caution and call your veterinarian for advice. Together, you can determine the best course of action for your horse’s health and well-being. Is It Colic? As a horse owner, it can be concerning to see your horse pawing at the ground. This behavior can be a sign of colic, which is a common digestive disorder in horses. Colic can range from mild to severe and can be caused by a variety of factors. In this section, I will discuss the types, symptoms, and causes of colic to help you determine if your horse is experiencing this condition. Types of Colic There are several types of colic that horses can experience, including: Gas colic – caused by an accumulation of gas in the intestines Spasmodic colic – caused by muscle spasms in the intestines Impaction colic – caused by a blockage in the intestines Twisted gut colic – caused by a twisting of the intestines Each type of colic requires different treatment, so it is important to identify the type of colic your horse is experiencing. Symptoms of Colic There are several symptoms of colic that you should look out for, including: Pawing at the ground Rolling or lying down excessively Loss of appetite Restlessness or agitation Excessive sweating Increased heart rate Diarrhoea Difficulty passing manure If your horse is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is important to take action to determine the cause of the problem. Causes of Colic There are many factors that can contribute to colic, including: Dietary changes Dehydration Parasites Stress Overexertion Intestinal blockages It can be difficult to determine the exact cause of colic, but identifying the potential factors can help you take steps to prevent it from occurring in the future. How to Treat Colic First Aid If I suspect that my horse has colic, I will immediately remove all food and water and monitor the horse closely. Walking the horse can help alleviate some discomfort and prevent the horse from lying down and rolling, which can cause further damage, however walking can also tire them out so don’t walk continually for long periods of time. I will also check the horse’s vital signs, including temperature, pulse, and respiration rate, and record them to provide to the vet if necessary. If the horse has not passed manure in a few hours, it is always best to consult with a vet. Medical Treatment If the horse’s condition does not improve within an hour or if the horse’s vital signs are abnormal, call the vet immediately. The vet may administer pain medication, fluids, and other medications to help alleviate the horse’s discomfort and treat the underlying cause of the colic. The type of colic will determine the appropriate treatment. For example, impaction colic may require more aggressive medical treatment, such as surgery, while spasmodic colic may respond well to medication and rest. If surgery is necessary, the horse will need to be transported to a surgical facility, and the vet will provide detailed instructions on how to prepare the horse for transport. Do You Need to Call a Vet? When to Call a Vet If your horse is pawing at the ground and showing other signs of colic, such as rolling, sweating, and refusing to eat or drink, it is important to call a vet as soon as possible. Colic can be a life-threatening condition, and early intervention is crucial for the best possible outcome. Even if you are not sure whether your horse is experiencing colic or another medical issue, it is always better to err on the side of caution and seek veterinary attention. What to Expect When the Vet Arrives When the vet arrives, they will likely perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your horse’s symptoms and behavior. They may also perform diagnostic tests, such as a rectal palpation, bloodwork or ultrasounds to determine the cause and severity of the colic. Depending on the type and severity of the colic, treatment options may include medication, surgery, or other interventions. Your vet will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your horse’s individual needs. It is important to follow your vet’s instructions carefully and monitor your horse closely for any changes in behavior or symptoms. In some cases, colic can be a recurring problem, so it is important to take steps to prevent future episodes, such as ensuring your horse has access to clean water and plenty of forage, and avoiding sudden changes in diet or exercise routine. Remember, when it comes to colic, time is of the essence. If you suspect that your horse is experiencing colic, don’t hesitate to call a vet. With prompt and appropriate treatment, most horses can recover from colic and go on to lead happy, healthy lives.

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